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UN officials urge sustained support for Sierra Leone’s post- conflict recovery

By United Nations
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Senior United Nations officials today urged continued international support for Sierra Leone as it consolidates peace and advance development, and especially as it prepares for next year's elections, warning that any faltering now could risk the significant progress made so far.

“Despite all achievements in overcoming its civil war, Sierra Leone will remain fragile and vulnerable to sudden economic, social and political shocks, both from outside and from within the country,” Michael von der Schulenburg, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Executive Representative for Sierra Leone, told the Security Council.

He stressed that while the West African nation has made a “truly remarkable” recovery in the nine years since the war ended, it will continue to need strong international support.

“Sierra Leone, which was once a symbol of a failed State, is now gradually evolving into a model country for overcoming old divisions and developing into a peaceful, democratic and prosperous country,” he noted, while adding that “it is not yet out of the woods.”

In his latest report on the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL), which is headed by Mr. von der Schulenburg, the Secretary-General noted that all of the country's achievements will be put to the test by the challenges of conducting peaceful, free and fair presidential, parliamentary and local council elections in 2012.

While the UN and international partners stand ready to assist Sierra Leone and its electoral institutions, Mr. Ban said that the Government and the country's political parties have a critical role to play in ensuring the success of the elections.

“The success of the elections requires a level playing field; political access by the contestants to all regions of the country; a credible electoral process; and willingness of the contestants to accept the outcome of the process,” he wrote.

Ambassador John McNee of Canada, who chairs the Sierra Leone configuration of the UN Peacebuilding Commission, told the Council it is especially important that the national institutions charged with overseeing the elections and major political parties build a stronger relationship based on improved cooperation and mutual trust.

“Successful elections depend on the commitment of the parties that contest them to play by the rules, and respect results,” he said. “The elections must not only be technically sound, but also widely accepted.”

In his report, Mr. Ban added that among the three risk areas – youth unemployment, corruption and illegal narcotics –identified in the Government's Agenda for Change, overcoming youth joblessness remains an intractable problem that will require greater commitment on the part of the Government and support from its international partners.

Echoing these comments, Mr. McNee noted that the country's young people expect progress and prosperity, and that disappointment could present a “latent risk” of political instability.

“Sierra Leone rightly stands as a multilateral success story for peacebuilding. Yet the story is not quite finished. One of the important lessons learned in the past two decades is that peacebuilding requires constant and continued support. Faltering now would risk all that has been gained.”

Sierra Leone is one of five countries – along with Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), Guinea-Bissau and Liberia – on the agenda of the Peacebuilding Commission, which was set up in 2005 to help post-conflict countries avoid slipping back into war.

Also addressing the meeting, the country's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Joseph B. Dauda, said his Government remains committed to the conduct of peaceful, free, fair and transparent elections next year, and welcomes the support of the UN and development partners in what has been identified as a “key test” for the country.